Law passes to improve human rights in North

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Law passes to improve human rights in North

South Korea’s first-ever law governing its efforts to improve human rights conditions in the North took effect Sunday.

The North Korean Human Rights Act finally went into force after 11 years of partisan wrangling over the content and purpose of the law. The passage came in March this year at the National Assembly and the Park Geun-hye administration approved an enforcement ordinance for the law last week during a cabinet meeting.

Under the law, a special advisory group will be formed to come up with government policies to improve human rights in North Korea. The law requires academic figures with more than 10 years of experience in the field and public officials such as prosecutors and judges with 10 years of experience in their fields to become members.

A state-funded North Korea Human Rights Foundation and a special archive of human rights violations by the Pyongyang regime will also be created. The foundation will be operated under the Ministry of Unification and will be launched this week, an official at the ministry said.

Ruling and opposition parties will recommend directors for the foundation’s board.

The foundation will support non-governmental groups and research, survey and policy development efforts to improve human rights conditions in the North.

The ruling and opposition parties will each appoint five board members, and the unification minister will recommend two.

The special archive will be launched at the end of this month. Evidence such as the testimonies of human rights violations, provided by North Korean defectors and collected by officials of the Ministry of Unification, will be transferred to the Ministry of Justice every three months to form an archive. A director-level public servant will head the center. The archive could serve as evidence to hold North Korean leaders accountable for their crimes against humanity in the future.

According to the law, the Foreign Ministry will also appoint an ambassador on North Korean human rights. It remains to be seen if the law will be applied to support North Korean defectors now in third countries.

“The purpose of this act is to contribute to the protection and improvement of human rights of North Koreans by pursuing the right to liberty and right to life prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions on human rights,” Article 1 of the law says. According to Article 3, the term, North Koreans, is defined as “persons who have their domicile, lineal ascendants and descendants, spouse, workplace, and other bases of living north of the Military Demarcation Line.”

It remains to be seen if the foundation to be established under the law may use its budgets to support activist groups that are protecting and assisting defectors in third countries. The ministry allocated 13.4 billion won ($12 million) of budget for the foundation in its next year’s plan.

The special archive will receive 950 million won of budget next year. Another 530 million won will be spent for creating policy on North Korea human rights and pushing it forward.

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